Netanyahu Calls Gaza Attack That Killed 45 Civilians a “Tragic Mistake”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that an attack aimed at Hamas militants in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza, accidentally killed 45 Palestinians in a refugee camp and injured another 200.

“Despite our best efforts not to harm those not involved, a tragic mistake happened last night. We are investigating the case,” Netanyahu told the Israeli parliament. Two senior Hamas militants were killed in the attack.

Volker Turk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, condemned the incident, saying, “The images from the camp are horrific and show no change in Israel’s warfare methods that have caused many civilian deaths.”

Turk noted the Israeli military’s investigation but said it was clear that attacking an area full of civilians would lead to more Palestinian deaths. He urged Israel to follow the International Court of Justice’s order to stop its offensive in Rafah. Turk also called on Palestinian armed groups to stop firing rockets into Israel and to release all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

European Council President Charles Michel called the strikes “horrendous” and urged Israel to stop its offensive in Rafah. “It is horrendous to see innocent Palestinian civilians killed in the recent attack. There is no safe zone for displaced people in Rafah,” Michel said on social media.

In Washington, the White House National Security Council said, “The images from the attack are heartbreaking. Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists. But Israel must do everything possible to protect civilians.”

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees described the situation in Gaza as “hell on earth.” “The news from Rafah about more attacks on families seeking shelter is horrifying,” UNRWA said.

The Gaza health ministry reported that the attack caused fires in tents where displaced people were sheltering. The Israeli military said its attack was a precise airstrike that killed Yassin Rabia, the Hamas chief of staff for the West Bank.

Qatar’s foreign ministry said the attack could complicate efforts to mediate a cease-fire and return hostages held in Gaza.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for an immediate cease-fire and respect for international law. “Outraged by the Israeli strikes that have killed many displaced persons in Rafah,” Macron said on social media. “These operations must stop. There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians.”

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell mentioned the attack and said the international community must figure out how to enforce the International Court of Justice order. The court is part of the United Nations but needs a U.N. Security Council vote to enforce its orders, and the U.S. holds veto power there.

Netanyahu has promised that Israel will not leave Gaza until Hamas is no longer in control. He said Israel must take over Rafah to defeat Hamas and achieve “total victory” over the militants.

Hamas said Sunday that it had launched a “large rocket barrage” targeting Israel’s commercial hub of Tel Aviv. Air raid sirens blared during the attack, but Israel reported no immediate injuries or damage. This was the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January, though rockets and mortar rounds have been fired from the Gaza border since then.

Hamas’ Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades said the rocket barrage was a response to “Zionist massacres against civilians.” The Israeli military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel from near Rafah, with some intercepted.

The Israel-Hamas conflict started on October 7 when Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and capturing about 250 hostages. Israel’s counteroffensive has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, including both civilians and fighters, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters.

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